Friday, October 21, 2011

Port Moody SPIKE business awards

Wow... another unbelievable evening celebrating Port Moody businesses !

In 2004 the city started an event called the 'Spike Awards', honouring Port Moody businesses and recognizing those that go far beyond the 'standards' in their industries.    The event was held in 2004/5/6/7 and then took a two year hiatus.

After I was appointed the chair of the Economic Development Committee in 2010, the first thing I wanted to do was to bring back the Spike awards. We were on a very tight timeline, with planning only starting in July , but , I know how much this event means to the local business community and many of them take true inspiration from the nominations - not to mention the networking opportunity.  We were able to pull the event together, and this year was even bigger and better, including a very informative session from none other than Dave (dont call me a social media guru) Teixeira from communications ( .

The Spike Awards invite the residents/consumers in the area to nominate their favorite business in a number of categories, to be recognized for their outstanding performance, service, offerings or ideas.  This year we received HUNDREDS of nominations for hundreds of different Port Moody businesses.  It is clear in comparing the years of the awards event that (A) There are many repeat nominations, and its great to see companies not just surviving but flourishing.  And (B) There are many NEW nominations, and companies are continuing to open in Port Moody as they appreciate the positive business climate and the opportunity to showcase their business to an appreciative population.

The strength of our local business community is a testament to good community planning, and both the developers and the city should be congratulated for their vision and concepts that they have brought to the city.   It truly is amazing to talk to the various business owners and managers in Port Moody and to hear what is going on in all of the different sectors - and everyone is always positive and looking forward to a long future in our city, and I'm so thankful for that.

Further evidence to the strength of our local businesses is the number of entries we received from those who live OUTSIDE of Port Moody, and, the number of companies that were nominated in multiple categories.  

This year the categories, and the award winners were:

Arts in Business - Veracis Meditation and Wellness Centre - 86 Moody Street @ St Johns -

Veracis were overwhelmingly recognized by a clearly loyal customer base, as being true to their goals of being " .. a sanctuary of inner peace, where meditation is the link to health and wellness. Our holistic approach to healthy living is centered in the healing arts, where spiritual consciousness and healing is nurtured through registered and drop in meditation classes, yoga, fitness, healing therapies and retreats."    The incorporation of art in the business is reflective of the City of the Arts, and this was a well deserved recognition.

Street Appeal - The Village Toy Shop - Newport Village -

Kirsten has been in Newport Village since 2001 after spending years working in her families business on Granville Island, and this store puts smiles on faces of everyone, young and old.  Having a particular focus on educational and environmentally friendly products, the toy shop was nominated in several categories this year, but, stood out for recognition of the wonderful store front displays that attract passers by each day.  Great job Kirsten and your crew !

Customer Service Award - by Berit Boutique - 2335 Clarke Street near Queens

by Berit, owned coincidently by Berit, is a clothing store with a difference.  Berit's customers come from all over the lower mainland, and beyond, to shop in a warm, comfortable store in Port Moody's heritage district.  Berit sells original and eclectic,  elegant and exquisite pieces and the comments received on the nominations demonstrated that by Berit is providing extraordinary customer service that the customers return for.  This was a tough category with MANY nominations , and the recognition here shows the respect and dedication Berit has for her business and her customers.  Congratulations.

Technology and Innovation Award - Pacific Coast Terminals - by the big yellow piles !  -

Pacific Coast Terminals established their home in Port Moody in 1960 and has been a fixture in the community since, not only due to the distinctive product (sulphur) that they handle , but for their contribution to the community and residents.  In 2010, PCT opened their site to celebrate their 50th anniversary as part of Golden Spike Days, on an even larger scale than they usually do, and thousands of Port Moody and lower mainland residents marvelled at the technology that they have in place on their site.  Much of this technology is contributing to improving their green footprint also, including their innovative water management system and their fleet of all electric vehicles.  Congratulations to Ken, Wade and everyone at PCT for working hard to earn this recognition.

Environmental Award - Inlet Seafoods - Newport Village - 

With over 30 years of experience in the fish business, Malcolm knows how to deliver a quality product, and Port Moody is lucky to have such a professional and dedicated business owner in our midst.  Malcolm has made a particular effort to only sell WILD salmon and to support the Oceanwise program of sustainable seafood 'harvesting'.  The business also uses reusable and recyclable packaging materials and encourages their customers to become educated on their products and the value of supporting sustainable practices in an industry that has been seriously diminished due to bad practices.  Congratulations Malcolm for showing that good environmental practices are also good financial/sustainable practices, and for delivering a superior product to the tri cities.

Tourist Destination Award - Rocky Point Kayak - Rocky Point -

When Jamie Cuthbert started Rocky Point Kayak in 2001, he was indeed a small fish in big pond.  The more established and widely known kayak rental operations of Eco Marine on Granville Island and Deep Cove Kayak captured most of the market when people thought of going out for a paddle.  Eleven seasons later, the hard work and dedication Jamie and his staff have shown for the business , and Port Moody, and with the support of the city , Rocky Point Kayak is now known throughout the region and is a draw to bring visitors to Port Moody that may not otherwise visit here.  Tourism has obvious spin off effects and Jamie has partnered with many other local businesses and events, and the continued growth is a testament to a great business operating in a great location.  Congratulations Jamie and all the staff at Rocky Point Kayak.

The fun part , and conclusion of our evening was the one minute pitch 'competition' - businesses are invited to pitch their exciting or innovative business idea, product or offering, in 60 seconds or less.   This was something we started last year and it really is a lot of fun.

This year's 'pitchers' were:

Berit - from by Berit 
Kris - from Innovative Fitness
Joye - from Joye Design
Lisa - from Mint Hair Lounge
Tatyana - from la Boutique Plus
Tracy - from the Conversation

ALL did an incredible job of standing up in front of 100+ of their peers and doing a little 'bragging' .  We learned a lot in a minute, and everyone enjoyed the pitches.

The judges declared the winner to be:  Kris from Innovative Fitness - and, maybe ironically, Kris takes home 6 months worth of passes for the Port Moody Recreation Centre .. actually, that might tie in nicely !

A huge thank you,

For the door prize donations:
 Pajos -
 il Destino Salon and Spa -
 Rocky Point Kayak -
 The Boathouse -
 The Runners Den -

For Our one minute pitch judges:
 Michael Hind from the Tri Cities Chamber 
 George Bountalas from Royal Bank.

And our truly inspirational and comedic guest speaker, DaveDotCa

Congratulations again to EVERYONE who took part that owns, manages or works at a business in the best city on the planet.  You make all of our lives better every day !

Friday, October 7, 2011

Translink Funding - gas tax or bust

So the Translink mayor's council is about to vote on a funding package for Translink that includes 2 cents per litre gas tax, and property tax for 2 years as a back stop while they seek an alternate source of $30-40 million per year. 

Many mayors are opposed to property tax funding Translink, and a few are going to vote against this package because of it.  But it will pass.  Because it has to.  Because nobody has any better ideas.  (ok , update, now its passed)

SO .. then what ?

So , for Port Moody, it means it's time to get on with planning our community in the new reality of skytrain coming through Moody Centre.   It's time to do some planning and develop a vision of what we want in our city and how it will evolve. 

We know that Skytrain will bring/demand/create more density around the stations, which, in our case, means the entire Moody Centre core.   We need to guide that process, not just stand on the sidelines watching (and complaining).

We've heard for too long that Moody Centre needs revitalizing, and seen nothing substantial done.  It's time we stepped up - as a council, as residents, as businesses - as a city.  No more finger pointing. No more 'waiting for..' to happen.  It's happening.  The Evergreen Line will change the north east sector like nothing has before.

We need to develop a plan that respects the heritage core of Moody Centre and the long time residents.  We need to develop a plan that brings new residents to support new business that serves ALL residents of the city, but particularly Moody Centre.  We need to develop a plan that the residents can be a part of and embrace and champion.  We need to develop a plan that protects our businesses and our local jobs, and provides opportunities for new business development in the 21st century economy.

And we need to manage our transportation network, regionally, to serve our residents and regional commuters.

Now that the plan is approved, the Evergreen line is moving forward, this isn't the END of this process by any means - this vote and this moving forward plan is the start of MANY MANY years of hard work and change in our city.

All aboard the Evergreen Line bringing change to the tri cities like we've never seen.

And remember the saying " Failing to plan is planning to fail " 
We need to get a plan working NOW.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Municipal Auditor General, Part 2

I posted the other day about the Municipal Auditor General - an idea from the premiers office to create an oversight office for municipal spending.  This became a very hot topic and in fact was probably the most significant topic of debate at the UBCM this week .

The UBCM is an annual gathering of ALL municipal and regional district councils in British Columbia, where ideas are exchanged and policies debated .

The MAG issue was before the UBCM having been announced earlier this year by the Premier that the province was considering creating an office of an auditor who would review municipal spending , like we currently have federally or provincially.

Almost immediately there was negative reaction from many municipalities, who were saying this is an attack on municipal autonomy, wasn't necessary and was a waste of taxpayers money.  So the province, via Premier Clark and Minister Ida Chong, have spent some time discussing this recently with UBCM, municipalities and clarifying in the role and intent of the program.  There remains some objection to the idea at the UBCM but the resolution was passed for the executive to continue working with the province on the details of implementation.

This is, in my opinion, the best answer.  I do not share most of the concerns that were expressed by municipalities at the UBCM, and I will explain why.

An attack on municipal autonomy or an erosion of authority.

I guess first you need to know that ANYTHING the province or fed's do is almost immediately objected to as 'downloading' .  Municipal governments have some heavy baggage, maybe some of it rightly so, that they carry and a mis-trust of senior governments.  Key there though is they are just that - senior governments.  We are a child level of government responsible to a provincial legislative process. They set the mandate, parameters, and extent of our authority.  That's how it is, how its always been, its nothing new.  So, that municipal autonomy doesn't really exist, and, even if that is just a poor choice of words, I don't see how having an auditor is an attack on municipal government.  If you have nothing to hide you are not afraid of ANYONE looking at your books and your processes - in fact, this is a great tool that would validate good government.

Not Necessary ?

Well, all you have to do is scan the headlines of the media on any given day, or talk to someone in your neighbourhood about municipal government, and you will almost immediately hear the comment about government waste, out of control spending, etc.  In fact CKNW is running a whole series on the radio on 'waste' that has focused on municipalities.  Again, if you have nothing to hide, then this process will validate your good policy and operational decisions.  If you recognize this as an opportunity to bring some outside expertise in, you may become aware of different ways you could be doing things you never even knew existed.  But if you just complain and/or bury your head in the sand, you are contributing to the mis-trust that exists in the public and the perception that taxpayer money is being wasted.  And that's just really kind of sad.

A waste of money ?

Value and performance audits are rarely a waste of money.  There are very few projects or processes where one WOULDN'T be able to identify areas where things could be done more efficiently or cost effectively.  In the City of Port Moody we receive constant input from EVERY STAFF MEMBER who are encouraged to let us know about areas where they think we  could improve our operations - where we are losing revenue or spending we could curtail or new services we could identify to serve the residents.  So we already have 250 independent reviews happening every day.  Plus the 34,000 odd independent resident reviews.  The MAG has the potential to take input from residents and staff and compare operations in one municipality to those in another to see where improvements could be made.  Having ONE body doing this for every municipality is more efficient that all of us doing it ourselves, and we would never have the reach or resources to do such extensive consultation.  Even when it appears the audit is not cost effective, maybe only saving a little money, if it saves that money repeatedly in the future, then, that is a good thing !  Or, if the audit finds no areas for improvement, then the value is in the re-assurance to the tax payer their money is being well spent.

SO - I am in favour of this, I think its a good idea.  The framework says that the MAG will NOT question policy decisions of a council - ie: if a council decides to build a playground, that decision is not what the audit would examine, it would only be whether the playground was built efficiently.  The UBCM is asking that the MAG be under the guidance of a board that includes municipal representation, this is a great idea.

The province is funding the office, which is great, but, there will of course be a cost to the cities as we have to provide the resources to the MAG in their discovery process.  It's an investment, not wasted, and the efficiency of having this province wide would mean some cities can look where they are already duplicating this level of examination and maybe scale back or integrate.

I am confident a Municipal Auditor General will be a good thing for the cities , if we choose to embrace this as a tool, rather than reject it as an attack.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Municipal Auditor General. A good idea ??

The press has been buzzing the last week or so about a proposal for a municipal auditor general.  Sounds like a great idea.  An auditor that would review the finances of municipalities to ensure that monies are being spent as they were said to have been, and that good value is being obtained for the taxpayer.

Good idea ?  Certainly, if you listen to the headlines and the soundbites it is.

There should never be any objection to another set of eyes or another viewpoint to examine how MILLIONS of taxpayer dollars are spent of course.  We should do all that we can in that regard.

However, it's important to note a few 'weaknesses' in the argument that some are putting forward.

FIRST, and most importantly:  many people would want the auditor general involved because they feel that a municipality , or any government, spent money on something they shouldn't have. And that then gets called 'a waste'. 

Well, because some, or a few, or maybe even one, person doesn't agree with something, doesn't make it a waste.  In a democracy, ideally, the government represents the will of the MAJORITY in their decision making, and sometimes, your idea might not be aligned with the majority.  So you don't get what YOU want... but that doesn't make it a waste.  Democratic elections are supposed to ensure us that we get representation of the people's will in government.

SECOND, and also very important, is to realize that municipal budgets are already independently audited and everything is published in the open.  Now, in large cities, with complex budgets, it may be difficult to drill into every line item and identify the details of the spending - but hopefully council watchers or media/press or even council members will keep their eyes peeled and notice anomalies that should be indicators of a problem. Someone should certainly be asking for more details when, for instance, staff travel goes up 200% in a year or equipment purchases go up significantly. 

In Port Moody, we have a relatively small budget and it is fairly simple to read, however, there are always challenges.  One frustration in any municipality is that when we budget, we budget by activity (ie: parks, operations, utilities, recreation, etc) , but our financial reports we report by revenue and expenses.  It can be very difficult, if not impossible, to match these up (although, of course, someone can because they all draw on the same data).   Particularly challenging in some years because municipalities must balance budgets each year so there are a number of year end transfers to/from reserves for projects that are incomplete, ongoing or not started in the budget year.

We also include members of the general public on our finance committee, which is staff, council and members of the public, reviewing our spending plans each year and drilling into those details. We have a fairly effective system, with lots of 'eyes' on the budget, and we work in a completely open and transparent manner (our finance committee meetings only are closed to the public if we are dealing with specific staffing details or legal matters, and this is VERY seldom).

As I say above - of course, having another set of eyes is always good - particularly if it is a good set of eyes, with experience in municipal issues and the ability to dig into the details.  If the province moves ahead with this, I would say  we should, as a city , support it. 

My first choice, however, is to create what I call a 'sustainability review and audit task force' - a task force consisting of councillors, staff, and outside experts, who can review our processes and projects 'in the rear view mirror', to ensure that we are doing things as optimally, and financially responsibly, as possible, and also that we are meeting our sustainability goals.  They always say 'hindsight is 20/20', so , we should be taking advantage of that clarity, reviewing our processes , and making any improvements for 'next time' that we can.

This will be one of my first priorities following the 2011 municipal elections, to setup this task force and to find the experts to help us improve our processes.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Canada lost a great leader today...

I woke up this morning, having returned from holidays in Alaska on Saturday, early and ready to return to the work day grind. Rain was falling outside my window, which i thought was maybe a little appropriate.  I woke before my alarm and turned on my radio to CKNW to hear the morning news before getting out of bed.  The 6 AM news broke with the headline that Jack Layton had lost his battle with cancer and died early this morning.


Honestly, I think most of us, certainly any of us who knew Jack, were not surprised - recently his health was obviously deteriorating rapidly and his feisty/fiery attitude had diminished as he was clearly fighting a losing battle with this horrible disease that takes too many too soon.  But Ouch !

Since being elected to Port Moody City Council in 2005 , I had the pleasure of meeting Jack, and actually having conversations with him, on several occasions.  Real conversations - Jack was a REAL person, very approachable, personable and really a 'man of the people'.  He was more than happy to engage in a debate or conversation with anyone at any time.  He always had time.

As a former city councillor, Jack understood probably better than, but certainly as well as, any other MP or MLA I have met , the issues that face municipal government and the challenges we face.  He could talk for hours on the various issues, thoughtfully and respectfully.  He was indeed a pleasure to talk to.

I think Jack was in politics for all the RIGHT reasons.  I know we don't think that about all politicians, and certainly many have proven we are right to be suspicious, but I really think Jack's number one goal was to serve Canadians, and to make Canada an even greater country for EVERYONE.

I'll take this time to tell 'my' Jack Layton story...   what the hell, it's a blog, if you don't want to read it, you don't have to, but I feel the need to write it...

I was EXTREMELY disappointed in the 'coalition' that the NDP, Liberals and Bloc proposed (formed ? ) in 2008.  Extremely....  I really felt this was cheap politics at its best.  The Conservatives had won in the election the 'right' to form a minority government, and the three other parties seemed so bitter and determined to undermine our democratic process, it REALLY upset me.

Mostly, it upset me because I had always said about Jack that , even thought I didn't always agree with his 'solutions', I had respect for his understanding of the problems , and his dedication to solving them.  But now, I felt he was getting involved in the kind of cheap politics that gave all politicians a bad name, and fuelled public cynicism.

Fast forward to Summer 2009 and the FCM at Whistler.  This was the second full FCM conference I was attending and the third FCM convention.   FCM brings together ALL Canadian municipalities and its always interesting, maybe amazing, certainly at times amusing, to see the similarities and differences in the challenges we face in different parts of the country.

Obviously, having all of the municipalities of the country in one place is a great venue to make connections for the federal parties, and they usually have a fairly strong contingent on hand to discuss issues with municipal councillors.  The leaders of ALL the parties are invited and given the opportunity to address delegates - some show up, some do not.  But Whistler was interesting... to see the different styles...

As I headed back to my hotel on day 3 of the conference, I noticed a large entourage approaching .. complete with security , etc.    As they came closer, i realized this was Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal Party, and a few other liberal 'heavy weights'.  They were surrounded by security and moved quite quickly through the 'corner' of the village, and into a hotel where the security staff informed me I was not welcome.  Not very folksy ? Oh well, was mainly curious, never was an Ignatieff fan anyhow.. I share this only as contrast to Jack's appearance.

The other leaders:  Prime Minister Stephen Harper has never shown up at any event I have attended since being on council in 2005, so I have no idea if he would be surrounded by security or how approachable he is.  I guess you probably have to have security as Prime Minister, and I get that he is a very busy guy... and he normally sends a high ranking minister, such as John Baird and Stockwell Day, and I have enjoyed meeting them, and other ministers, who have been very approachable and friendly, particularly Ministers Baird and Day, and our local MP Minister Moore.

Elizabeth May was in Whistler too of course, and, as always, VERY approachable. I had a nice chat with her, offered her all the success as I always do - I hope we see the green party one day make some inroads and shake up the scene a little.  I think we need that.   Much as I think it is important, no, crucial, that we always have a strong opposition party to keep government honest.  Elizabeth is , of course, completely approachable and available, which is nice.

Which leads me to the reason for my reflecting on FCM 2009.  

After seeing Ignatieff and his entourage (I should mention in fairness that later in the week I enjoyed a great conversation with Sen. Campbell), I continued into the center of Whistler village.   Standing there, in the dead center of the village square, was none other than NDP leader Jack Layton.  Out there shaking hands with people, talking to tourists, and generally 'holding court' in the village square.  No tie, no jacket, shirt sleeves rolled up.. chatting with the people.

I went over and Jack says "Hey Mike, how are things in Port Moody these days ?"  Wow - he remembers me !! I'm star struck for just a minute and then I remember I'm wearing a name badge :)

We talk about the Tri Cities - Jack is actually very familiar with the riding, and has spent a fair amount of time here.  We talk about Skytrain, about Dawn Black and James Moore.  We talked about the GST.  We talked about infrastructure deficit.  Jack was such a powerful, passionate speaker that it truly was inspiring to just be around him , never mind talking to him...

And then I said to Jack "What the heck are you doing in a coalition with the Bloc and the Liberals ? I thought you were different Jack.. I thought you were better than that."  Wow, where did that come from ?? I can be blunt sometimes, but I felt bad saying it even as the words left my mouth.

But Jack didn't get mad, or defensive , or anything else.  He said he understood why I would say that, and if I would allow him, he would explain his reasons.  He re-iterated much of what everyone had already heard in the media, and I tried to listen respectfully - but I assume it was obvious I didn't agree, as he stopped before he as finished and said "Mike, it's clear we just don't agree on this, and I hope that's OK.  I know why you feel the way you do, I hope I've helped you understand why we did what we did - if not now, maybe one day you will - or maybe we will never agree.. but it doesn't mean we can't be friends, right ?? "  .. and he put his arm around me and gave me one of those joking type hugs that you would share with a friend.  We both laughed, I said "You'll know if I agree with you Jack when you see my party membership form come through your office".  He thought that was funny... or at least he laughed.. there was now a small crowd gathered around , and they laughed too.

I don't generally support political parties - in fact, I hate that we even have them.  I hate that anyone would do something because 'the party said so'.  I have supported NDP , Green,  (BC) Liberal , Conservative, and independent candidates at all levels of government - because I thought they were good people.  (I have to admit, I have never supported the federal liberal party or their candidates in my riding)  I have the luxury of living in a riding(s) where we have had GREAT candidates and MP's / MLA's.  Even when the candidate I support hasn't won, we have always ended up with great representation , which makes me very happy.  I like them all, and I respect them all for what they do...  and while I'm not a member of the federal NDP party, nor likely will I ever be, Jack Layton was certainly a politician I would support.  In the four of five conversations we had over the years, he helped me understand the party system and why he thought it was important.  How he felt that generally it was good having to give or compromise within the party, even if you didn't fully agree - because this represented how society as a whole worked. 

Jack was a great opposition MP and leader - in fact, maybe that was his destiny - to oppose.  I know that sounds negative, but in Canadian politics, its VERY important. We often saw poll results where he personally polled higher than any other party leader - but the NDP was , until this past election, clearly never even close to forming government.  But Jack pressed on, fighting the fight and rolling up those sleeves and getting out and talking to the Canadian people about what their priorities were and what was important.  He beat his head against the walls our parliamentary system puts up in the 'charade' of democracy (we all know the debate might make for good theatre but at the end of the day even a majority of 1 in government means you will do what you want). 

I think Jack actually brought change to our government, our country and our world.  How may people can we say that about ?  I think Jack showed people that politicians aren't all 'sleezy', that its not all about back room deals and we are all in this together, so let's make it the best we can. I think Jack understood the role of opposition better than anyone, and worked in the system to effect change and to bring good policy and governance to the people.

We will NEVER replace Jack.  Never.  But hopefully others will follow in his footsteps, and keep paving the road that he has laid down.

Your battle with cancer has ended Jack - I didn't think there was a fight you didn't think you could win, and I know you never gave up.  I hope now you are free, this horrible disease is done, and your soul carries on - and your memories continue to inspire, and bring to action, all of those you have inspired.  It was indeed a pleasure and an honour to have met you, and I thank you as one of those people you inspired.

I could say Rest in Peace, but, I don't believe you ever rest ;)

God-speed Jack, and all the sympathy and support Olivia.

Friday, July 15, 2011

GVRD Taxes on the rise - BIG rise

As reported in the Vancouver Sun this morning, GVRD (Metro Vancouver) utility fee/taxes are being predicted to rise by 44% over the next 5 years. These costs show up in municipal utility fees, which are rarely spoken about by municipal councils at budget time, mainly because most municipalities have seen rises of 100% or more over the last 10 years or so. Most municipalities have chosen to seperate their utility budgets from their operating budgets and it is operating that gets the media coverage each year - utility budgets in the past few years have had single year increases of 20% or more, but , rarely get mentioned.   

(Side note: Its nice to see Kelly Sinoski at the Sun and Jeff Nagel at Black Press continuing to provide some good coverage of the Metro Vancouver issues - without the two of them there would little if any coverage of what's going on over on Kingsway !)

Little surprise that the costs are increasing... I mean, of course , the utility charges are going up, everything does , and the regional utility is facing some huge costs pressures for new sewage treatment, water treatment and garbage processing facilities.  These costs escalate as a function of regional growth, which is why I do not support the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth strategy, which does not identify these cost increases as a result of increased regional density and growth, and , which seem to 'surprise' taxpayers later and exceed our ability to pay !  However the utility costs in the region are being 'amplified' by the increased spending by our regional utility provider , GVRD/GVS&DD , on items not directly tied to the provision of regional utilities (sewer, water, etc). 

GVRD is expanding their parks operations and buying new parkland, without any ability to pay for the maintenance of these parks.  They are getting into social areas, such as 'food security' , homelessness, and cultural programs.  They have dramatically increased budgets for director's travel, to send mayor's and councillors to Europe and the Far East.  Spending is increasing exponentially on communications and media - some of which is intended to defend the increase spending ! (irony !!)  And the decisions on these budgets are made in relative isolation from public/taxpayer scrutiny, or input.

As the alternate to the MV board from Port Moody last year, I proposed amendments to (defeated) and voted AGAINST the MV 2011 budget and reported back fully to council and the public in Port Moody the details of my feelings about the process. Refer to my report , and powerpoint, to Port Moody City Council at our November 2010 meeting regarding the 2011 Metro budget - it's a shame that the media likes to focus on Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby and could not even be bothered to report that a councillor from little ole Port Moody was making suggestions for cost control and pointing out dramatic increases at the MV Board.  Most recently the media HAS decided to run stories around the spending at MV escalating and suggesting that the board should be restructured to include elected membership who would be more accountable.  I have made the point about accountability at MV board for the 6 years I have been on city council, but everyone needs to remember , these people ARE elected in their communities, and they should be held to account there.  I do not favour direct elections to the MV board as you are then creating (what many at MV seem to think they already have) another level of government.  LAST THING WE NEED !

It is obvious, however, watching the decisions and the budgets coming from Metro Vancouver, that the elected officials find it much easier, in the privacy of the MV offices in Burnaby, to make decisions to spend taxpayer money, without having to face their taxpayers.  Ironically, many will later say 'there's nothing we can do about it, it's a Metro Vancouver issue'.  Sadly, often the board members are even voting against resolutions put forward by their own municipal councils - something that in the real world would be akin to 'treason' , but gets brushed aside as a 'regional decision making process'. 

My first suggestion for amending the MV Board operations is to eliminate the pay for attending meetings - councillors and mayors are all paid in their home communities, and if there is value to those communities in having council's work together regionally (which of course I believe there is) then that should be part of their job and they should be paid locally for that, as part of being a councillor or mayor. 

My second suggestion is that MV gets OUT of anything not related to regional utility provision - yes, you may be able to maintain the GVRD as an umbrella organization for municipalities to co-ordinate programs on homelessness, arts and culture, etc - but not running programs with staff and escalating costs - some of these things, in reality, should be shifted to the LMLGA (Lower Mainland Local Government Association), which is where the political association should exist separately from the operational association.

My third suggestion is that municipal voters ensure they are electing people with an understanding of regional issues and those that are willing to protect the interests of THE taxpayer , regardless of which pocket they are taking his/her money from !

Monday, July 11, 2011

Evergreen Line Funding, Continues..

So, as expected, last week the Translink Mayor's Council and the Transportation Minister have apparantly come to an agreement involving funding the Evergreen Line, using gas tax. The media has been repeatedly reporting that the Evergreen Line will be funded through a 2 cent per litre gas tax increase.


For some reason, they are not reporting the whole story here !

The WHOLE story is that the agreement apparantly is 2 cents pre litre gas tax, which will generate about $ 40 million per year, plus an addtional $ 30 million per year to be funded from an as yet undetermined source. And if that source is not found by mid 2012 then it will be funded from property tax, at ABOUT $ 23 per avg household per year. (The 2 cents is equivalent of about $ 34 per household avg property tax).

So what's it all about ?

The 'Moving Forward' package proposed by Translink's Operating Board requires $ 70 million annual funding. The description of the package can be found on the translink website, on my website ( and includes:
and includes:

- major upgrades to the Main St, Metrotown, New West, and Surrey Central stations
- more seabus service
- over 200,000 additional transit service hours south of the fraser, 425,000 system wide
- New B-Line service from White Rock to Guildford
- Hwy 1 rapid bus from Langley to Lougheed Town Centre
- Addtional bus service throughout the system
- maintain $ 6million in annual funding for cycling network capital
- maintain $ 20 million in annual MRN funding for muncipal project sharing
*NO, the Murray Clarke Connector is not included in this proposal !

This is the ACTUAL quote from the 'Moving Forward' plan on where the revenues will be coming from :
"The Mayor's council and the province have agreed on a funding formula for the plan that includes a 2 cent per litre increase in motor fuel taxes in April 2012 , plus , by 2013, either a property tax increase averaging about $ 23 per year for the average Metro Vancouver residential property, or a new , long-term , source of funding."

So it looks like the 'south of the fraser' contingency has only accepted funding for the Evergreen Line if the items for S.O.F are included in the package. Reading the plan, it really sounds like those items are quite vaguely defined and look like more items where translink is simply outspending the taxpayers ability to pay.

We'll see I guess - but I wonder why we are only hearing about the 2 cents ? Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting a consipiracy theory here, but, I wish they would report the entire story so that people will understand there is more here - otherwise, we will be faced with the 'outrage' when the costs start 'rising' even though they really are at these same levels.

And really, this becomes more of a shell game - there IS only one tax payer, and regardless of how you carve up this pie : I can say I will fund the Evergreen Line using fuel tax and fund the other items from property tax, or I can say it the other way around, and fund Evergreen Line from property tax and the others from the fuel tax. Makes no difference... and it seems to me that it makes more sense for the regional property taxpayer to fund the Evergreen Line than for them to be paying property tax for seabus and bus service - those things just seem a little more directly connected to fuel tax ? Maybe that's just me.... I would not be approving ANY plan right now OTHER THAN the Evergreen Line.

The Murray Clarke Connector is a long time regional priority that has been DROPPED from the plan completely - how have these other items been put the front so expeditiously ? I believe they are there to appease other parts of the region - not necessarily because they are of the highest REGIONAL importance. I would support the funding of the Evergreen Line via property tax, if needed, and that should be the limit of any funding right now - the other options should be re-examined as the MCC has been and all of them re-evaluated for regional importance and our ability to pay.

UPDATE: and wouldn't you know it, now it is being reported that Premier Clark isn't sure if funding via gas tax is a good idea ! Not sure why her minister is out negotiating if he doesn't have the authority or backing of the government ?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Funding the Evergreen LIne, Part 2053

Ok, maybe not 2053, but the ongoing saga of how to fund the Evergreen Line for the extension from Lougheed Town Centre to Coquitlam Town Centre continues today.

Apparently the mayors council is meeting to discuss a funding formula. As a reminder, the project is currently funded 1/3 federal, slightly more than 1/3 provincial, and Translink, representing the local municipalities in GVRD region, has not come up with their $ 400 million they committed to previously.

Let me take a wild guess here ... Mayors have said they will not accept property tax as a method of funding transit projects. So , what will it be then... hmm..

I say they will go gas tax - we know it is a 2 cent per litre tax that would make up the funding vs a $ 32 / household property tax. Or something blending the two. But it will be gas tax. Why ? Because the muni's don't want to be portrayed as raising taxes any more than they already are.

TWO problems i have with this:

1. Cost of the Evergreen Line is WAY higher than what is needed. Should be at grade light rail via the southern (riverview) alignment allowing for future expansion to the east at a much lower cost.

2. How is gas tax sustainable ? What if we managed, god forbid , to actually get people out of their cars and using transit ? Is that not the goal ? So, if we are requiring say $ 40 million per year of gas tax for the Evergreen Line , @ 2 cents per litre, must mean we are consuming 2 billion litres of fuel every year in the region (yikes.. thats a lot !) . SO what if we go down to 1.5 billion litres ? We would have to RAISE the gas tax to make up the 40 million we need - now we are pummeling those left on the roads, and that is the trucks that deliver the goods , the buses that deliver the people, etc. It's a vicious circle.. we need to get out of !

Ok , third problem - this isn't doing anything for the long term structuring of transit/transportation network funding, which is just being put off, yet again, because everyone is afraid of the conversation .

Stay tuned to the media and you can either tell me I'm so smart or so wrong when we hear what the agreement is.

One thing I KNOW for sure - the funding formula , or 'supplemental plan' will not include the Murray Clarke connector, however they propose to fund it !

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Referendum approves borrowing - barely

Well, it seems that , with very poor turnout at the referendum polls, the majority of the residents who voted approved the borrowing of up to $ 16 million to build a new firehall.

As I said in earlier blogs and comments, I do not believe the replacement firehall will actually cost $ 16 million, and I hope it will end up being $ 12 million or less for the entire project. As noted previously, we do not yet have final design of the firehall or the geo-technical data needed regarding the site for pile driving, etc. that will be required. We have a draft design and preliminary geo-tech, but without the funding referendum, we did not wish to move this project forward, and spend large amounts from our current operating/capital budgets, until we knew if this project had the ability to move forward.

We now have that ability as approved by the voters, and we can get on with finalizing the design and moving this long overdue project forward !


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The need for, and cost of, a new firehall

On April 16, Port Moody voters are being asked to participate in a referendum to endorse the borrowing of up to $ 16 million for the funding of the replacement of Firehall #1, at Ioco and Murray Streets.

That's a lot of money ! So, what's this all about ???

Why do we need a new firehall ?
The current firehall was built in 1974, so it is only 37 years old. Well - only... maybe that sounds old, but my house is close to 100 years old, and there is no reason to replace it at this point. This will be the THIRD firehall (and third police station) Port Moody has had in my 44 years, and that doesn't include Glenayre. That doesn't seem right !
The problem is, I believe, the firehall was built poorly, by today's standards, and is not built to current earthquake/disaster standards. The sinking/shifting of the firehall is readily obvious if you go look at the site, you can see the stabilizing measures installed a few years ago are already 30+ cm from where they started. Also , the city has grown substantially since 1974, in fact, it has grown over 100%. While we have added firehall #2 in Glenayre, we also have the need to store more equipment/apparatus and the existing #1 hall is just becoming too small. The Fire Rescue service has evolved over those 37 years, with new extraction equipment, wildland interface equipment and now, the equipment needed to address the changing landscape of our community, particularly high rises.

Why is it so expensive ?
Why is anything so expensive these days ? Worst part of trying to do this sort of thing, as a city, is that our process is completely transparent. Every potential bidder on this job knows how much money we have to spend because our budgets are transparent and open. It's very frustrating, knowing there will be limited or no negotiations. I'm not used to this from my private business life - but, that is the way it goes. So, we have to have the building designed to meet our needs and come up with an estimate for borrowing purposes so we can go to referendum (see below for the why on that issue). Because there are still many variables, the $ 16 million budget contains many 'contingencies' for those unknowns. We believe the actual building construction cost to be 8-10 Million. Still a lot of money, but, substantially less than 16. Other contributors will be the design, environmental issues, site prep issues, pile driving, furnishings and finishing. The new firehall is designed to be an asset for the city for the next 50 years. It includes new training space, equipment space, administrative space, co-ed locker facilities, etc - many of these would NOT have been included 37 years ago. We want to ensure our fire rescue personnel are protected at their place of work, ready to react to serve our residents.

Why doesn't the city consider the earlier option of co-locating development with the firehall, or selling this site for development and building the firehall elsewhere ?
There are a few reasons for this, in particular, one that nobody seems to be talking about - or at least those in FAVOUR of more high density development in this area.

First, Port Moody residents, from the election in 2008 (when EVERY candidate for council was asked if they supported further high rise development and ALL said they did not), to the various public meetings on the OCP and the firehall issue itself, have made it clear that the current density in this area, even though Onni is not yet built out on the Suter Brook site, is stressing our city with commuter transport issues in particular, and they do not wish to see any more development here. I have always said that while I agree with that, the Firehall site was one that I would have considered on its own merit, as this has been 'on the books' for many, many years.

When we looked at options for co-locating development on a site with a firehall, we found that there were very few, if any, developments that we could do in that scenario, particularly due to the access issues at this location. Firehalls house big trucks and need to be able to get in and out very quickly, and this site doesn't lend itself to sharing that space with residential or commercial tenancy.

The last option then was to relocate the firehall elsewhere and simply SELL this site to raise money towards the construction of the new firehall. This seems to be where most of the misconceptions are now coming into play. First, and most importantly, all of the data we have around call volumes suggest that the hall should be located within about 400m of its current location. A very large percentage of our calls come from the Inlet Centre area. Relocating the firehall to Heritage Mountain/Bert Flinn , as was considered in 2005, would mean that 80% of our calls would have an increased response time, and only < 5% of our calls would have a decreased response time. Relocating the hall to St Johns Street, to co-locate with the Police Services building, unfortunately would put the April Road/Ioco Road residents OUTSIDE of the acceptable call response time service level. Getting through St Johns/Ioco intersection during rush hour, particularly the afternoon rush, when the highest number of calls for fire/rescue are received, is very difficult. Also this means both halls would be on the same side of the tracks and overpasses and leave the north shore isolated should and emergency take out the crossings of the tracks. Could we relocate the firehall to Eagle Ridge Hospital grounds ? That would have been my choice, if we HAD to move, and had that been an available option. But we don't HAVE to, we don't have that option, and that isn't city owned land, so we would have to buy it.

The BIGGEST misconception though, is the value of the land the current firehall sits on. In doing the analysis with the architects and the city, it became evident that fitting even a modest firehall on the site would be a challenge due to the environmental regulations on streamside setbacks. The site has TWO creeks running through it, which limits the scale of development on the site. The current draft plan of the firehall, at just over 1000 sq m. doesn't even fit entirely in that envelope, despite going outside of the setbacks to Knowle St and Murray St. The site is over 6500 sq m and we can only build on roughly 1000 sq m. My single family lot is Moody Centre is about 800 sq m. How much development can we get on a lot just slightly larger than a single family lot ? 4 units ? 10 ?? That development would be even more challenged than the firehall due to building code, and parking restrictions, and certainly would not have the economic position to contribute in any meaningful way to the firehall construction elsewhere. So, to suggest that we could get any high density development on this site which would pay for a firehall, is really a pipe dream. Unless we are willing to fore go the environmental regulations and violate our own city policy. I'm not willing to do that.

What happens if the referendum is defeated ?
Well, the decision to replace the firehall, as far as I know, is made. This council has made this the number one capital priority, and the ONLY one. The site selection, I believe, has been made, through several years of consultation and consideration of the options. The need for the firehall is clearly identified. I don't believe the referendum will fail, but, if it does, then we will need to have a very serious conversation with our residents about what we are to do .

Why do we need a referendum ? Why can't council just make the decision and get on with it ?
Due to the financial state of the city, we are not in a 'legal' position to incur this kind of debt without going to the voters for approval. The Local Govt act/Community Charter, provincial legislation, limits the amount of debt a city is allowed to incur - much as we are not allowed to carry deficit budgets, as prov. and fed. governments do, we also are not allowed to commit to debt we cannot repay. Council COULD just increase taxes raising reserves for a few years and then back paying other reserves to complete the project, but, honest, open government doesn't work this way.

Why doesn't the city have the money to replace the firehall and police station ? Where has all the money from all of the increased growth gone ?
Great question ! Previous councils have approved development and sold city land to developers and in exchange for that, the city, 8 years ago, had very healthy reserves and no debt. Today , we find our reserves depleted and our debt piling up. Decisions were made, prior to my arrival on council in 2005 to build a new police building (9 million), and recreation centre (26 million), which consumed all of the development revenues and reserves, as well as incurring debt (borrowing). Those councils made strategic decisions on priorities for spending - and for whatever reason, despite the fact that the firehall replacement was known to be an issue , it was overlooked. Since I came onto council in 2005, there have been no major capital projects approved by the city council, and in 2008 the current council adopted the policy of only having ONE capital project on the plan, the firehall, which was my campaign commitment in 2008.

So, obviously, i believe we need a new firehall. I have said this since I ran for council in 2005. Everyone has agreed that we need a new firehall. It is unfortunate that we have not adequately planned for this financially, but, there are always varied opinons as to whether you should pay forward, pay back or pay now. Personally I prefer the city to have healthy reserves and to plan for the future, which is why I pushed for the implementation of the asset renewal reserve a few years ago, and why i work every year for responsible budgets that protect our taxpayers assets.

I wish it was cheaper, and I wish we had the reserves to pay for it, but we don't. Moving forward, I hope that residents approve this funding and keep pressure on city council to be spending every dollar wisely. Our taxes are increasing at a rate outpacing inflation and growth and forcing people to leave our community - we need to control spending and recognize what we can and cannot afford as a community. But public safety, and utilities, need to be protected as the number 1 mandate of city government, and we must not let our infrastructure fall apart. This should not and can not take a back seat to libraries, rec centres, or anything else, or we will be in a heap of trouble down the road.

If you have any questions before you vote PLEASE ask.. you can get me by email or by phone any time.